Estimated reading time 8 minutes, 23 seconds.
This story begins in the rural countryside of Oxford County, Ont. It’s a beautiful autumn day in Southwestern Ontario, and as you fly over the perfectly squared rows of farm fields, you can see the dust blow up from the combines harvesting their crop below.
Just two nautical miles west of Woodstock, Ont., you’ll find a beautifully kept 3,100-foot grass strip called Norm Beckham/Bob Hewitt Field, or Woodstock Aerodrome (CPR5).
Beckham, known as “Mr. Harvard,” and Hewitt are both legendary figures in Canadian aviation, and the pair are the founding members of the Woodstock Ontario Flying Club, which calls CPR5 home.
Established in 1968, the flying club is a member-driven, volunteer-based organization that promotes aviation in the surrounding community while providing economical flying opportunities to over 70 members, utilizing a Piper Cub, a Citabria, and a Cessna 172.
Despite the passing of the club’s founders, their legacy lives on through the passion of the dedicated members and continued support from the Hewitt family, which today owns half of the airfield property.
“We’ve got a pretty sweet deal, in my opinion,” Dave Hewitt, son of the late Bob Hewitt, told Skies during a visit to Woodstock Aerodrome.
In exchange for using the property, the Woodstock Ontario Flying Club maintains the airfield.
“My name might be in the CFS (Canada Flight Supplement), but don’t let that make you think I do all the work around here,” Dave laughed.
The Hewitt family has been working in partnership with the flying club since purchasing the land in 2002, with the intention to nurture the sense of community within aviation.
For Dave, aviation has played a role in his life for as long as he can remember.
“There were four Harvards in my backyard all my life,” he recalled. “My dad and Norm Beckham started collecting them in 1968.”
Growing up, Dave spent a significant amount of time servicing Harvards and organizing what his family called “the largest airshow on grass.”
On occasion, he and his siblings would ride across the grass airstrip on their dirt bikes, only to be scolded by the flying club members afterwards. “It’s those darn Hewitt kids!” Dave mimicked as he recounted the story.
At 19 years old, he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a pilot. Today, Dave is a pilot for the Mike Potter Collection; instructs at the annual Canadian Formation Clinic; and, is active in the Canadian aviation community. He is also a former member of the Canadian Harvard Aerobatic Team.
From Harvards to Hurricanes and P-51 Mustangs, Dave has flown over 20 different aircraft types. Though, he doesn’t seem to have a preference on what he flies, as long as it gets him in the air.
“Anything I can get my hands on, I’ll try flying it,” he shared. “I can’t say I have a favourite… Everything is mission-oriented for me. It depends on whether I want a nice calm evening, and I feel like being a barnstormer so I take out the open-cockpit Stearman and chug around at 500 feet over the trees; or, if I want to take six friends and go have a $700 hamburger, then I take the Beech 18.”
For the Love of Aviation
As Dave’s eyes scan over his airplanes, there is an adoring expression on his face. He’s stoic, but there is a gentleness in his demeanour that makes him both approachable and sincere — the characteristics of a good role model and mentor.
He rolls open the doors to each of his hangars, and it’s apparent how excited he is to share his fleet with us. One by one, he pulls out each aircraft either by hand or by tug.
The Hewitt airplane collection is extensive. It includes a Cessna 185 amphib, a Stearman, a Harvard, a Vans RV-6, a Citabria, an Extra 300, and the pride and joy of the fleet, the Beech 18.
As we sit in front of the hangars and conclude our visit to Woodstock Aerodrome, we ask Dave, “What is it about aviation that pulls you in and keeps you passionate?”
He pauses. “Well, it’s my hobby, and it’s my love. It’s the challenge of flying; the challenge of the perfect landing; the challenge of the perfect formation; the challenge of the perfect aerobatic manoeuvre; the poem that says, ‘I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth…’ Until you’ve done it, you really don’t understand what those words mean.”
Discussing the enduring legacy of the Hewitt family, now spanning three generations of aviators, Dave said, “To have a third generation flying… it’s pretty neat. We do some formation flying, and to fly off the wing of your son is quite surreal actually.”
It’s clear that Norm Beckham and Bob Hewitt planted the seeds back in 1968 for what would become a thriving aviation community today. Bob’s family — including Dave and his son — is proof that igniting passion in young minds pays like compound interest; it multiplies over time. Today, the Hewitt family remains committed to supporting its aviation community and continuing to instil passion in the aviators of tomorrow.
A pilot’s home is a sacred space, and we express our heartfelt gratitude to the Hewitt family for graciously sharing their slice of heaven with our readers.